Tuesday, December 22, 2009

End of Year Christmas Daze

I have to admit that I have been in a food coma for much of the last two weeks. I have been eating non-stop. Lots of party food, breakfasts, lunches and dinners out. I don't think I have had a proper home cooked meal in a week. I don't want to harp on about it, because I know you all know, but the end of the year is so tiring. The temp heats up, the food is overly abundant, the drinks flow every night of the week. To top this off I have been travelling with work both last week and the week before and so have had little time to blog.

Usually I seem to manage but there have been so many other things to worry about i.e having parties, going to parties, Christmas shopping, the 8 hour drive home to my family home, Christmas Day menu planning, party for tonight planning which still isn't complete. Which comes to why I have the time to blog now. Procrastination! Ah ha.... Tonight's party..... 20 people for a casual Christmas party in my family home- sounds like fun? Yep! But I am so disorganised it is not even funny!! Eek- had better get to work...

After I tell you about the fantastic Christmas Party my friends and I had in Brisbane. Knowing it is such a busy time of year, I wisely decided to outsource the cooking... GASP... I know, but seriously, being stuck in the kitchen is no fun.

Sally Lynch from Tastetrekkers (www.tastetrekkers.com.au) agreed to the task- 12 people @$40 per head. The other criteria was to be Christmassy without being too Christmassy and to take into consideration that some of the guests are more traditional eaters and some of the guests like extravagant food. Gee- complicated and contradictory much?! Oh.. I also wanted to have some stuff that could be served cold....

Sal provided me with a menu to choose from and then I decided on exactly what I wanted. She did a fantastic job of catering to my weird requests and we had enough food to feed at least 16-18 people!!! We got to talking and Sal has been in the food industry for a long time and her experience shows. The food was fantastic and although my photos will not do it justice, you will be able to get a good idea of what was on offer. The guests at the party repeatedly told me how much they loved the food and kept thanking me for organising, so really, this thanks and praise should be passed onto Sal. From the menu Sal gave me, I tried to incorporate traditional (for my family- so may be a little weird) elements of Christmas i.e. Duck, Chicken, Prawn and crab and then the rest of the choices were made because they looked so Yum!

The Menu:
Asian Style Duck Rice paper rolls with yellow bean sauce

Prawn & herb mayo mini po boys

Crispy crab and noodle balls with a lime chilli dipper

Crostini with wild mushrooms and Persian feta

Crispy Chicken Pieces with lime salt

Thai Beef salad with holy basil & green mango tartlets

Stuffed mini chorizo sausages with cheese & herbs with an apricot glaze.

Sorry- have no piccys of these babies but they were delicious. In fact I ate about 6 of them!~

Glazed and Baked Ham with assorted mustard and chutneys, salad and crusty breads.

The crostini with wild mushrooms and persian feta was the favourite of the day and the glaze on the ham was delicious. I can also tell you that nothing went to waste because everyone enjoyed the food so much. I particularly loved the lime salt, and we used the excess to rim the martini glasses. I actually have some ham frozen because we did not even get to eating it, but I did put it to good use in the few days after the party.

Sal had all the food labelled and packed in containers with instructions to heat if required. I was really happy and everything was so easy.

We also had some fab cocktail concoctions using vanilla vodka, lychee liqueur, vodka, bacardi, chamboard and a whole heap of mixers like cranberry, mint, passionfruit, lime, ginger. We even used the leftover lime salt to rim the martini glasses for some kick to the cocktails. Luckily we all lined our stomachs well with Sal's Chrissy feast.

Have you been in an end of year daze too? Do you do all your own catering for Christmas parties?? If not, who do you employ and have you been happy with them?

Now... time to get to planning Christmas Day Menu- eek Grocery Shopping is chaos this time of year. The next post may just have to wait for another week! Sigh...

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Safe New Year. Thanks for reading and I hope to hear from you all (via comments!) early in the new year. There will be some changes happening to this blog in the new year, so stay tuned for those too. What are you guys doing/eating/drinking for christmas?

So far I'm thinking of grilled whole prawns with garlic and coriander, scallops in the half shell (not sure what to dress then with yet, oysters with pickled ginger and lime, kung pao chicken and the rest is yet to come. Happy Holidays!

Signing off. xx

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas time in the Sunshine @ Noosa

So, I am heading home to Gunnedah for Christmas this year, but C, my boyfriend is heading to either Noosa where his grandmother lives, or to his family property, so on the weekend I was in Noosa and sourced out some good Christmas goodies for him.

Noosa is a foodies paradise and literally has everything you could need for both the perfect traditional Christmas or a Modernised/Australianised version. I've put together a guide on where to get the best produce for those heading to the Sunshine Coast this summer.

1) Fresh seafood is always a staple at Christmas time and the Seafood Market at Noosa Junction has some of the BEST oysters I have EVER eaten. Not even exaggerating.

This could be because the oysters are shucked fresh daily and you can really tell.

The prawns are always superfresh and they also stock fresh crabs, lobsters and bugs and will clean them for you free of charge.

There is a good range of fresh whole and filleted fish which always conjures up some amazing possibilities, as well as frozen bits and bobs.

If you are feeling lazy or short on time, they have already prepared prawn rolls and other meal options like Lobster mornay.

I have been getting seafood from here nearly every weekend since they opened exclusively as a Seafood Market (they were previously a fish and chip shop- which is sorely missed.) The only thing is, their prices can be a little higher than what you would pay in Woolies/Coles but the quality is well worth it! May I reitereate they have consistently the best oysters I have ever eaten!! As a scallop fiend, I am also happy with the quality of scallop meat.

The market is self serve which really suits me because you can get exactly the fillets/fish/prawns/whatever you want without having to sound like a real pain by directing someone- "no not that one, the one two in front of it please!" (repeated 18 times -you get the idea.)

Seafood Market sell other seafood related stock from Black Pearl Epicure, Simon Johnson, Tetsuya's and Spirit House to name a few.

They also have house made sauces i.e seafood sauce, aiolis.

Get in early at Christmas time because the prawns, oysters and crabs/lobsters fly out the door- I'm not sure what the deal is with ordering but I would give them a call to suss it out.

So you can get an idea of pricing, I have added a list of the prices for popular Christmas items which were current at the time of visiting the store- these obviously could change.

Prawns - $36.99 per kilo
Oysters- $16.90 per dozen
Raw Spanner crabmeat packet- $24.99 each
Swordfish- $33.99 per kilo
flathead- $44.99 per kilo
assorted reef cod- $36.99 per kilo
gourmet marinara mix- $27.99 per kilo
baby octopus- $12.99 per kilo
squid tubes - $13.99 per kilo
rice paper prawn rolls - $2.99 each

Seafood Market
Cnr of Cooyar Street and Lanyana Way
Noosa Heads, QLD
ph: 075449 2655

2) The Cooking Company are well established in Noosa and have been around for about 10 years. It is tucked around the back of the street that the Fresh Seafood Market is on, -18 Lanyana Way. The Cooking Company has two shop fronts - one is the shop that has been around for ages selling cookware, cooking books etc etc and the other is the newish deli located just opposite on the other side of the lane (where Sweet Tempered Chocolateria is). The deli opened in February this year and is a cafe bar and specialises in fine foods. I have been into the deli a number of times looking for hard to find ingredients and I have usually been able to find what I am looking for.

They have some great christmassy items in.

* Flamigni Panettone- The Cooking Co stock a whole range of Flamigni including panettone. Apparently, according to my panettone obsessed Italian friend, Flamigni are THE best makers of the panettone. All Flamigni products are made in Italy and although I haven't tried the supremo cioccolato, it comes highly recommended. The Flamigni panettone retails for $59.95 and the prices rise from there for the more deluxe items in the range.

* Fresh duck eggs- Duck Eggs are harder to come by than one would think. I have not been able to find anyone at the Noosa Famer's Markets that sell duck eggs, but Cooking Co have solved the dilemma and have eggs available for $1 each that come from a local farm at Doonan. The same farm supplies to some of the local restaurants. The duck eggs are really fresh and could be the secret ingredient to making the perfect sponge cake this Christmas.

* I don't know about you, but Christmas time at my house is chaotic. I like to have a range of stuff on hand to serve people when they drop in for a Christmas hello and a few drinkies. Lotus and Ming stock a really cute range of gourmet asian goodies like shitake and leek or peking duck spring rolls, fresh pumpkin dumplings. They come with matching spicy plum and soy fusion dipping sauce and may just get you out of a pickle if you have unexpected guests. They are $14.95 for a pack of 8.

* Some of my friends are scared to cook. I'm not sure why, but they seem to think that it is too hard. These same friends however, are happy to buy packet cake mixes because they seem easier as they are already prepared. I'm not sure why it is easier, but if it gets them baking then surely that is a good thing. The Cooking Co stock a range of Donna Hay Cupcake kits for $13.95. They come in either chocolate or vanilla, and you can also buy molten chocolate brownie or cranberry and triple choc cookies. The Donna Hay range is really cutely presented and is the perfect gift for someone who is a little bit scared to bake up a storm.

*I love Bacco's crispbread. Kristy and Luigi Papagni own and run an artisan bakery in the little village of Murrurundi in NSW which isn't far from my home town. Every time we went to Sydney, we used to pull up and fill the car to the brim with crispbread galore. I was glad to find the bread available in Noosa - made me feel a little less homesick!! These crispbreads are a nice treat and great to keep in the cupboard over the Christmas period. I would also love to find a packet of fennel seed or chilli twiggies in my santa sack.

* Tabletop grapes- If you up for making your own panettone then these Tabletop Grapes will come in handy. The Cooking Co stocks the whole range and these are the grapes my Gran used so they don't come any more highly recommended than that!

* You can order Christmas hampers for any money value and any style, and they will be able to help you out if you don't have much idea about what you want to go into the hamper.

Aside from all the Chrissy gear, they also have a lot of other hard to find products, as well as some beautiful cheeses and a good charcuterie range.

18 Lanyana Way
Noosa Heads QLD 4567
ph. 07 5412 2750

3) Noosa Farmer's Markets
Noosa Farmers Markets are my alltime fave farmer's markets and there is plenty of Christmas stock available there. I picked up a Pudding Lane pudding and loved the fresh sweet crab meat on offer from the Spanner Crabs Noosa Stand. There are plenty of other great fresh producers there too- like the Bendele Farms Stall which have all organic poultry. Yum Yum.

What are your favourite products to have on-hand for those unexpected visitors over the Christmas season?

Pudding Lane distributors
Pete and Allison
073803 4319

Spanner Crabs Noosa
Unit 2 / 15 Production St
Noosaville, Qld, 4567
Mob. 0427 766 778

Bendele Farms
470 Bular Road
Kilkivan QLD
07 5484 7157

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sweet Tempered Chocolateria- Noosa Junction

I used to be a chocolate fiend. In my teen years whole missing boxes of Ferrero Rocher's could be (rightly) attributed, solely, to me. Easter Bunny was always very generous but whilst my sister's could stockpile my takings were usually gone within the first three days. And I was not without tactics to secure more. By this time, after eating chocolate for three meals on Easter Sunday, and watching me devour the rest of my takings, the siblings were usually sick at the sight of anything looking like or smelling like choc. So then, I would sweep in take the leftovers, which was usually enough chocolate to last me for another week or so.

And don't be fooled into thinking that this choc-maniac could be fuelled from just the Easter petrol. Through out the year, I ate chocolate every day- even if it was just a little bit, and it was usually a lot more than a little bit. In year ten at school, I ate to many mint patties, my friends and I covered an outdoor picnic table in the stickers within a couple of months. I'm not sure how I didn't grow exponentially in this time, but I guess being 16 helped with that side of things.

Even better, my family was already accustomed to this kind of behaviour because my Aunt is probably clinically addicted to chocolate, so compared to her, everyone thought I had just a minor issue! It's funny how things can seem so normal because you have seen it all before.

As time went on, chocolate became less and less of a focus. The need for the daily hit subsided and I found myself more able to go to the markets/woolies/a newsagent without coming out with bags full of choc. I stopped finding chocolate hidden around the house (hiding it from myself!- not a great idea) and slowly developed what seemed like a much more normal relationship with chocolate.

Like any addiction, there are times of relapse but I feel that I am more in control now... until I spotted the Sweet Tempered Chocolateria in a little lane way in the Lanyana Arcade at Noosa Junction- JACKPOT!!!

So... I stalked around for a while, wondering if I should go it alone, or if I should compromise my new normal chocolate lifestyle with the temptation of going in...

I decided that I was an adult and I should be able to handle myself when going into a chocolate shop, but the moment I stepped in and the sweet cocoa wafted my way, all restraint was gone.

Sweet Tempered Chocolateria is the brainchild of Dylan and Kate Tasker. They recognised that Noosa lacked a little choccy shop and decided to fill the void. Dylan worked in the Margaret River for a chocolate company and so had the experience and know how to seal the deal whilst Kate had a background as a barista and so brings the coffee aspect to the table.

The shop has a really cute brown and white striped theme and feels a bit like a french candy shop. The florist opposite means that the area is just too cute to boot! Mirror with lipstick writing adorns the walls and lets customers know of the specials, as do the cute blackboards outside. There is also, of course, an alluring cabinet filled with a myriad of different handmade chocolates.

(sorry about me in the reflection!)

Aside from chocolate, Sweet tempered do cappuccinos (which Dylan assures me are 'the best in Noosa- although I cannot verify as I don't drink coffee!), tea and coffee, light lunches and lots of chocolate based sauces, etc. But lets face it. I was there for the choccies.. Yum

I knew I needed to exhibit some form of self control, and so resolved to only spend as much money as was in my wallet- a $20. At the chocolates being $1.50 each, this meant that I could choose a decent selection of the handmade delights whilst still remaining in control.

Usually I would go for the passionfruit creams or the dark chocolate with ginger which just so happen to be the best sellers, but I was in the mood for a couple of zesty chocolates so chose the lemon sphere and chilli truffle and something traditional- vanilla, strawberry and peppermint cream.

I had them put in a little take-away bag and brought them home with the intention to share with C. It's the intention that counts right??~!

So I was most curious about the chilli truffle. Sometimes chilli chocolate can be overwhelming or underwhelming but I feel that this one was just right. The dark chocolate ganache was smooth and the chilli had just enough bite to make itself known. I did give C a little bite of this, and he quite enjoyed it.

I moved onto the lemon sphere, which was something I have never tried before. Perhaps not my favourite of the day, but it did have some zing from the lemon which melded nicely with the intensity of the dark chocolate.

The vanilla creme was beautiful- definitely my favourite. The centre was soft and fluffy, just like a pillow but not too rich. My only complaint is that it should have been bigger to allow for more injection of extra vanilla!

The peppermint cream was a little disappointing for me. I am a peppermint lover and would have liked the flavour to be more apparent. However, coming from the opposite side of the fence, C insisted that it was great because the taste was so subtle. This was true of the strawberry cream too- the chocolate was nice and full and the cream was subtlety strawberry which is a lot nicer than biting into some of the strawberry creams which are so artificial and too sickly sweet to enjoy.

I'm lucky I only bought 5 chocolates because they were consumed in the five minutes after I arrived home. The chocolates were delicate and subtle which was a really nice touch. The chocolates were reasonably priced and the Sweet Tempered Chocolateria has lots on offer- the perfect haven for any chocolate lover.

Take it from a former chocolate addict- less is sometimes more. I'm actually proud that my dignity remained in-tact whilst visiting the Sweet Tempered Chocolateria but if you are worried, perhaps you should take back-ups/body guards to stop you getting out of control when you pop down to Lanyana Way next time you are on the Sunshine Coast.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My terrible photos

Well, As one reader has rather (un)diplomatically pointed out- my photos are of terrible quality. Yep, it's true- I am the first to admit it.

The reason my photos are do dodgy is because at this stage, I use my iphone to take quick snaps of the food and then, I tuck in. My PIES (partners in eating) even at this stage, find it annoying that I have to snap the food first before it is placed in front of them! Usually the lighting in restaurants in less than desirable and when I take my photos outside, if it is takeaway, I leave them in the takeaway containers because I want to take the photos before I get home and before the salad has wilted. I use the iphone because it takes 2 seconds to upload and my life is pretty hectic at the moment so it's easy but I know the terrible quality does lessen the quality of the blog. So you see, there is method in my madness.

Thankyou for bringing this up with me - I really know I need to get cracking on better quality photos -In the new year I am planning to take a photography course and better the quality of photos so you will have more beautiful photos of the food I review/cook. If you can bare with me until then, I'd be very grateful, If not- check back in the new year and hopefully you will see some new and improved shots appearing!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mints Vietnamese & Asian Cuisine - Rosalie Village

I love Vietnamese food. It's so simple, fresh and beautiful. Perfect for Australian Summer climate. Right now, I'm also rather interested in reading Luke Nguyen's new book- Songs of Sapa but it has been placed on the increasingly expensive and long list of wanted cookbooks (another blog on that later!)

Vietnam has such an interesting and varied history and French colonisation obviously had a huge effect on the food! I was very excited to hear that a new Vietnamese BYO restaurant had opened in the Rosalie Village. Rosalie/ Paddington area has been lacking a good Viet restaurant and I was hopeful that Mint could fill that void. Of course, there is Libertine at the Caxton Barracks but I mean a more casual place.

The restaurant is very simple and casual but modern. Light green is the theme. The menu is extensive and has Viet specialty sections as well as many items that aren't specifically Vietnamese. This is very common in Asian restaurants in QLD. I've never really seen this so often and I'm not sure it's such a good thing. I would like to go to a Vietnamese restaurant and see only Vietnamese dishes because every time I get a menu with other options, I get distracted. This is the same with Thai, Chinese etc etc....

I was also ordering take-away, but the staff were all really polite whilst I was there. I also noticed that some of the staff and some other Vietnamese people were all dining at the back of the restaurant together. I got in pretty early- 5:30ish and so they were obviously having their meal together before the evenings service. I love seeing the family that own the restaurant happily eating away- It shows such a sense of family and community and eating togeh.

That being said- I was really rushed and the menu was huge so I just picked the first things that popped out at me.

1) Pan friend pork dumpling (6 for $6.50) A very reasonable price but.... hmm... Not sure what I was thinking ordering these away from a Yum Cha Restaurant. I guess I got panicked and just went for something familiar. While these weren't altogether bad, the casing was a little undercooked so a bit chewy but the filling was nice and gingery.

Salt and Spicy quail 2 @ $5.50. The salt and spicy quail was very crispy however not too salty or spicy. The quail meat was quite tender and but a kick of chilli and salt would have done wonders.

From the Viet specialties section I ordered salt and spicy calamari for $15.90 and was once again underwhelmed by the lack of spice and salt. The calamari was heavily battered but the inside was tender and very easy to chew. Seeing I ordered two 'salt and spicy' dishes I must have really been lacking in salt!!

Last but not least I went for the wrap your own rice paper rolls with grilled marinated chicken for $13.90. This was by far the best dish. The chicken was beautifully marinated, delivering a nice lemongrass zing. The accompanying salad was fresh and plentiful and there was more than enough filling to do at least 10 rice paper rolls. I made these for C and I for lunch the next day!

I was not totally thrilled by my visit to Mints but have to confess that there were elements of promise and the rice paper rolls are enough to convince me to go back. I have spotted some dishes from the Viet Specialties section that I might try next time including the Viet Special King Prawn Clay Pot and the Viet Steam fish fillets with ginger and shallots both priced at a very reasonable $16.90.

The food was very cheap $32.00, including 10% off opening special which was enough for dinner for 2 and lunch the next day. All the items were all really fresh so I'm hoping the couple of problems were opening week jitters because there was definite elements of great fresh Vietnamese food. I don't know of any good Vietnamese restaurants over this side of town so I'm always happy to see new, good restaurants opening up!

Mints Vietnamese
Shop 4/21 Nash St
Rosalie Village
Paddington 4064
073367 8868

Mints Vietnamese & Asian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 23, 2009

My love affair with Simpatico

It's not easy to find a consistently good restaurant that you are happy to go back to time and time again. Simpatico in Brisbane is one such restaurant. In actual fact- I would have to say that it is possibly my favourite restaurant in Brisbane. The food is always good and the service is always impeccable. I love the atmosphere and I genuinely love eating there ALL the time without getting bored.

Simpatico offers food that is designed to be shared. The servings are bigger than tapas and I love the concept because everyone can have a decent bite of everything which finally stops me from eating off everybody else's plates. I hear my Pie's give a sigh of relief.

Speaking of PIES (partners in eating), My friend El and her boyfriend R invited C and I to dinner at Simpats and we happily joined them.

That being said, since my food blogging started, I have had to step out of my comfort zone and I have only been to Simpatico once in the last three months. So I was more than happy to go back. One problem that came with being away for so long was that I almost felt out of place when I stepped into the restaurant on Friday night and saw all new staff and an all new menu sans my favourite scallops in the whole world. Now you all know I have a scallop fetish as documented here, here and here and the scallops served at Simpatico, until recently, were among the best. They were served with seasme wakame and are the FATTEST, plumpest, most beautiful scallops. I LOVE them. In fact I almost cried when I couldn't have them and made a note in my mind to write a letter to get them put back on the menu. This has happened before, and the scallops did come back so when I calmed down, I was not AS concerned particularly when I spied another scallop dish on the menu.

There was also an awesome cocktail section addition which the menu noticeably lacked previously.

C and I usually eat about 4 dishes between us at Simpatico- With two hungry boys and El and I, we decided on 6 dishes and the olives.

The fried green olives stuffed with feta are a staple at Simpatico- they have always been there and they are fab. I love to get them to munch on them when deciding. I often get fried olives when I am out but these are the best I have had so far.

We each picked a dish that we wanted and agreed on two extra dishes. El is coeliac so we had to be mindful of that but luckily there were plenty of gluten free options. There is also a large variety of food available that all looks pretty good so usually everyone I dine with find it quite easy to agree. Depending on size, the dishes range from $7 (the olives) to $20. This is usually pretty cost effective because if we get two dishes per person that is $40 tops which is much less than I would usually spend getting an entree and main. In fact, I think the total bill was $202.50 which included our six dishes, the olives, beer for the boys and two cocktails each for El and I- pretty great, I say!

R decided on the pork belly with green papaya & nam jim for $16, El went for the Barramundi with shimjie mushroom, leek, asparagus and jus for $19. Both of these are old favourites of mine, so the choices were off to a good start. C went for his favourite (and my least favourite)- the wild mushroom risotto with goat curd $16, I predictably chose the scallops with polenta and chorizo (new) $20 and the other two dishes picked were the roast duck breast with pumpkin puree, cabbage and blackberries (also new) $20 and sauteed king prawns with basil, mint and cherry
tomatoes (new) $20.

I decided to order a lemon miss and El had a pimms cocktail.

First out were scallops. The scallops were, in usual Simpatico style, beautiful but I'm not sold on the accompanying chorizo. The chorizo was still good but I don't think they made a good fusion because the scallops are so delicate- and easily overpowered which is exactly what the chorizo did in this instance. The polenta was well cooked and the dish was ok- but I rate the scallops with seasme wakame much higher.

The risotto was next out- although I'm not sure risotto was a fair name for this dish. We have had this dish many many times before and this was not a good rendition of it. Not sure if something was going on in the kitchen but the risotto was soupy and the oil had visibly seperated from the cream. The flavours were still good and rich and the whole dish was eaten BUT it was not up to the usual standard The risotto is usually my least favourite anyway- hopefully I'll be able to talk Camb out of ordering it next time.

The basil and tomato prawns were next in line. They were good and the plate was almost christmassy with a mashing watercress, onion and tomato. The dish was simple and clean and fresh tasting and the prawns were well cooked.

The star of the night was the pork belly. It was crispy on top yet juicy and succulent in the middle. The squares of pork paired with the nam jim made a pretty sight, and the nam jim had a little bit of bite. The coriander provided a perfect accompanyment and this dish was noted around the table as the best of the night. Simpatico does the best pork belly I have ever had anywhere, and this dish lived up to my high pork belly expectation. Somehow they manage to get the crackling incredibly crispy which makes is the perfect contrast to the succulent flesh.

The duck arrived and was beautifully cooked but I'm not convinced that the cabbage and pumpkin puree showcased the duck very well. The blackberries were a nice addition but I think there could be something better than the cabbage and pumpkin, even though seperately they were quite good the fusion just didn't hit the spot.

The barramundi was so tender it was falling apart and was perfectly complimented by the vegies. The skin was crispy, the asparagus fresh and full of flavour and accompanying jus was just the right salty addition. This was my fave dish of the night and possibly in my top 5 Simpat dishes.

El and I did wait a long time for our second drinks- they seemed to maybe not adjusted to the new cocktail list that well yet. If you are in a hurry, I would go with something quicker but in the end, my lemon miss was well worth the wait. If it had been quicker, I would have had another! Perhaps it's I didn't because the next day I had to get up and cook Thanksgiving dinner!

Once again the service was really good, the dishes were all brought out in succession but not so quickly that everything sat on the table to go cold.

I was however, surprised and disappointed by the risotto. This dish simply wasn't up to scratch. The worst thing is, I have had this dish plenty of times before where it was cooked perfectly so you sit there knowing it could be much better- sometimes this is even more frustrating than when you get something that is just outright bad with no potential. I have NEVER had this experience at Simpatico before- everything is usually perfect.

I'm also not sold on the scallop and chorizo dish- mainly because I think that the scallops are too tasty to be paired with the strong chrozio.

The pork belly and barramundi were faultless. Next time I am steering well clear of the risotto- or maybe I should order it to see if this little problem is fixed up.

Some dishes we didn't eat but are fab are the braised beef cheeks which are cooked perfectly and have some serious depth- even better than the beef cheeks at Aria for about a third of the price.

Simpats, I have to say- I am a little disappointed in two of the dishes for the night which is uncharacteristic. I know you can do better- please don't fail me again or I will be forced to rethink my top Brisbane casual dining list. Once again, you nailed the pork belly and barramundi. and I have something else to say... PLEEEEEEEEEASE BRING BACK THE SCALLOPS WITH WAKAME!

Update: 3/3/11 - Have been back to Simpatico many times since this post and have enjoyed many different meals. It's a big call but I'm willing to say I think Simpatico probably hold the title for nailing the share food genre in Brisbane. Each dish is always good and importantly, the timing is always right. Nothing more horrible than having all dishes arrive at once and watching some go cold! Simpatico seem to 'nail it' every time.

SO readers- Do you have a favourite restaurant and have they failed you before? Have you got a favourite dish that has been taken off a menu before?

LaTrobe Terrace
Paddington QLD 4064
07 3367 1117
Simpatico Bar Bistro Espresso on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Aussie Thanksgiving

I'm not very good at history. I seem to have learned historical facts, only to have quickly forgotten them again. Whilst I'm not completely bad at Australian modern history- It seems that B.C to 1880 is one big muddled up blur in my mind.

It just so happens that a number of my co-workers are history buffs and I find myself trying to remember exactly who the Hapsburgs were when they seem to be able to argue which resource they think is most historically accurate for reasons a,b and c. It's not that I don't want to know- it's just that my brain seems to have a problem retaining the information.

I recently discovered that when food is involved, I found it easier to piece history together. Maybe not what year something occured or details of a particular battle but I could probably tell you about the people of the day because it seems to me that I am able to remember what they were eating. Whilst this is unorthodox it makes sense for me. I'm more about the people and now I have found a new way to learn that legitimises the year I am planning i.e. celebrating at LEAST one food based celebration every month! yeh yeh!

It seems to me that food has been something that has been unifying people since the beginning of time so therefore is the perfect way to help me learn and put things into historical context!

So to start off my education I decided to do Thanksgiving. My friend is visiting Australia and mentioned that she was getting a little bit sad thinking about Thanksgiving because it is such a big deal. There's nothing like a meal reminiscent of home to cure some of the homesickness blues and being selfish, I also want to learn as much as I can about traditions like this.The fact that Thanksgiving is focused around food and friends meant that it as a definite bonus!

Once I propsed this to Irma we both started to get silly with ideas and the planning started.

Events are so exciting. Who do you invite? What do you serve? Table decorations? Accompanying wine/cocktails? Do you risk hosting outside even though it is summer storm season? Oh goodness! The possibilities are endless.

I (my friend) and I (me) sat down and worked out who we would invite- obviously it would be fab to have about 40 people but our little apartment and our even so littlier, so small it's ridiculous kitchen just wouldn't cater for that. We narrowed it down to about 10 people with room for a couple of extras if necessary. Because I(my friend- ohh this is too confusing- let's just call her Irma) was the guest of honour for this celebration, she invited some of her friends, whom I didn't know, which was an exciting but daunting prospect.

I was a little stuck with the menu but ended up getting some great suggestions from Gourmet Rabbit as she grew up in the States and also hunted around on some U.S bloggers sites. Although I didn't get to cook any of the suggestions from Gourmet Rabbit- they were fab. She is going to post them on her blog soon and even had some interesting suggestions for Thanksgiving with an Aussie twist.

I've popped in a couple of the table decos so that you( if you can even make out the photo) may be able to get some idea!

I have some photos of the evening, however, regrettably, there aren't as many as I would like- to be precise there are none of the food when it was first cooked. So you have missed out on seeing the food in all it's glory! Sorry!!! I'm such a bad food blogger. And I haven't even got any shots of the table setting which was really nice! eek.. Damn. Anyway.. I woke up the next morning and snapped some of the leftovers. I guess I can only blame it on the fact that I spent the WHOLE day cooking and poor C had to run around and gather supplies I had forgotten and spruce the house up! I think it was his 5th trip when he decided that it would be the last. I'm going to give you a little rundown of the food we had and will pop in as many photos as I can!

The Turkey:
So according to Irma, we HAD to have turkey. I'm a fan of turkey but I did underestimate how hard it is to get fresh turkey when it's not the week before Christmas. Luckily I tweeted and some kind people tweeted in reply- Beeso from Mother Foccacia seems to have a good relationship with the Butcher at James Street Markets but I ended up going to Meat-ing Place in Paddo Central just because it was closer. Then came the problem- should I get a whole turkey or just turkey breast? I ended up going with 2kgs of turkey breast, only because not only am I a big fan of breast meat- but my little oven was getting a real workout and I needed to conserve as much space as possible. The butcher was really helpful and provided me with string and I ended up stuffing the turkey under the skin and then through the middle and tied it up nice and tightly.

According to Stephanie Alexander, butter is the way to go, so I basted in butter and then when the time came- popped it into the oven at about 220 for 20 minutes, took the oven back down to 180 and cooked for a further 80 minutes. I was really worried about drying it out and kept checking it, but eventually when I cut it, the meat was still beautifully moist and was cooked perfectly through. Woo Hoo! The only problem was- was 2kgs of breast meat going to feed 12 hungry people?!

Earlier in the day I had prepared a number of other dishes including mini corn and bacon quiches. A little bit boagn, but they are easy and oh-so-popular and I didn't have time to prepare the corn pudding I had intended on serving. I have made these little delights a hundred times before, but the first batch came out of the oven and tasted wrong. C, as always, was sneaking about the kitchen to try and snavel any morsels of food and had to break the news to me. I thought he was joking, and may have even let some expletives out when he told me- Sorry C- it wasn't you- it was me, but even now, I still can't figure out what went wrong. I went ahead and made a new batch which turned out perfectly(thank heavens) and everyone gobbled them down.
The quiches are pretty good if you need savouries. They are not especially sophisticated and use a lot of cheats like ready made puff pastry but they are really yummy! I got this recipe of a friend of my mum's and it's always well received. If you wanted to be extra cool you could cream your own corn and make your own pastry but I did cheat!

(makes about 36 +) But they will be devoured in no time.
1 packet of puff pastry
350 g bacon
500 g of cheese
250 ml cream
1 tin (or about 350 g) of creamed corn
plus anything else your little heart desires

1. Pre-heat oven to about 180 degrees
2. Cut out pastry with a circular cookie cutter and place into greased shallow muffin tins (not sure what they are called but they aren't the deep tins)
3. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and spoon into the pastry. Make sure you only put two teaspoons of filling into the pastry to avoid the quiches spilling over.
4. Cook for about 25 minutes or until cooked through and pull them out of the oven. Make sure you get the quiches out of the tins straight away to avoid the bases burning. Easy peasy (says me who stuffed up the first batch)

For the greens, we had a 'man' salad made by Irma's boyfriend J. It was very yum and there was really none left over! It contained bacon, feta and a couple of other secret ingredients. We also had cold beans with balsamic and garlic dressing. I blanched a massive pot of beans (maybe a kg at least) and then refreshed them. The dressing was a 1 part olive oil to 3 parts balsamic vinegar and had four cloves of crushed garlic mixed through. The beans were really easy- and were prepared well before everyone arrived. They had a bit of bite (if you don't like garlic, reduce the amount by 1/2) but were really refreshing. I tried to cook as much as I could before hand, and use as many different cooking devices as possible to get around the small oven situation.

I had also planned to cook broccolini with lemon, honey and walnut dressing, but this one just didn't happen. It sounded like a good combo though so may try it out another time.

In true style we had lots of corn! Corn plants were very important in the inception of thanksgiving and so I parboiled some corn cobs and then wrapped them individually in foil (and a lot of butter and salt) and bbq'd them. Nothing better than bbq'd corn and the individual foil packets meant that each corn cob was well seasoned.

Sweet potato is also another Thanksgiving favourite. I aspired to make sweet potato chips with sea salt and rosemary but ended up eating the whole tray whilst I was cooking, and didn't have enough oven space to cook the other 4+ trays, so I served mashed SP with lashing of butter and cinnamon to add some orange to the table.

Potato bake, another rather yummy but boganish dish took care of the potato element for the evening. I cut the potatoes into really thin strips and parboiled them, then layered them in a dish with lashing of bacon, cream, french onion soup stock, cheese, onion and stacks of fresh herbs. This dish was not that great in the end, because it didn't have enough time to cook through properly. It still tasted ok and I have to admit, I did eat the leftovers yesterday and it was better cold. Next time I might try something less creamy and go with scalloped fennel potaoes or some such variation.

The stuffing was great in the turkey, but the bit that was cooked just in foil was a bit dry. Nothing a bit of butter wouldn't fix and I do love my mum's stuffing recipe which is very simple- but really yum. Chuck a whole load of butter in with lots of salt and pepper, fresh herbs (whatever takes your fancy- we had sage, thyme, flat leaf parsley, onion chives, garlic chives, with some day old, torn up bread and stuff into the cavity. I am such a stuffing fiend- I literally eat more stuffing than meat at Christmas time, and I have to say that Thanksgiving was no exception. I know this is something I seriously shouldn't admit- but I have been known to eat the stuffing raw. I have another friend who also loves doing this, but most people shake their head.. Anybody?!

For nibblies, we had a cheese platter also brought by Irma and J which had a nice brie and blue cheese, with quince paste ! We also had sour dough with dukkah and balsamic and olive oil. Of course there was other additions like cranberry sauce, which was store bought because cranberries are NO WHERE to be found in Brisbane for at least another three weeks.

Ally from EatDrinkBrisbane has become my buddy and came along with a PUMPKIN PIE! I know, I know, the essential element of Thanksgiving dessert. Ally's Mum is Canadian so she is well heeled in tradition and I have to say that my first taste of pumpkin pie was great. She served it with lashings of cream and whilst pumpkin pie conjures up weird images- it was a delight.

Cheesecake was also on the menu- and an addition of lots of lemon and a touch more vanilla through the filling meant it was even better than last time. Plus I'm getting quite good at baking cheesecakes.. Maybe the baking curse has left me.

My worries about too little food now seem ridiculous, especially when the guests came bearing so much to offer too!

The hit of the night award is awarded to the "Gobble-Tini" cocktails made by Irma and her friend Kelly. They consisted of cranberry juice, raspberry vodka, chamboard, a raspberry rimmed with salt and tajin- a mexican spice that Irma brought from Mexico. It added the perfect kick and was oh so right for the night.

Irma also cut out some cute turkey and pilgrim hat cut outs and pasted the story of thanksgiving on the back for all the Aussies- very cute!

Part of the protocol of Thanksgiving is that everyone tells one thing they are thankful for. On the night I said that I was thankful for new friends and old friends - and - I meant it. I'm also happy that I'm fortunate to have enough food to eat, enough food to share with friends and enough food to even have leftovers. I think too often we think about the things that we don't have, the things we want and not the things we are thankful for, so a moment of sober reflection about how lucky we really are was rare but lovely in our consumer driven world.

I think I'm going to like my year of celebrations- aside from learning to cook and eating some fabulous food, I hope it is going to give me a greater understanding of different cultures and the significance of their celebrations.

So tell me, What is your favourite celebration readers? Is it Easter or Christmas or something special your family celebrates? Let me know!

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